Published May 24, 2011

TWISler Breakdown: Don’t park – Don’t sit – Don’t even come downtown!

The heart of Sarasota is startin’ to feel pretty uncomfy these days. Yesterday offered us the first salty sweet taste of paid parking in downtown Sarasota, and I’m sure the flavor still lingers for many of you. Give it up for City Commissioner Terry Turner and his newbie accomplice Paul Caraguilo for their last minute attempt to put a temporary hold on our meter implementation aspirations, but once you’re already in a half-million bucks it’s hard to hold back.

At least we have a few Main Street business owners trying to make something out of the hand they’ve been dealt, like Pastry Art owner Forrest Shaw and his fellow collaborators with their parking receipts for gift certificates idea. But keep in mind, the biggest pots are usually racked up when nobody folds.

But wait, there’s more! Not only can we no longer sit in our cars without paying for it, but we won’t be finding any more places to sit in Five Points Park either. That’s right, folks. Sarasota’s war on seating rages on, and the anti-bench movement delevered a huge blow with last week’s City Commission decision to remove all remaining pews from the property.

According to Robin Roy’s account over at the Observer, a whopping three concerned citizens unleashed bench-bashing tirades upon the commissioners last Monday, mercilessly forcing them opt for removal. One such citizen, identified as one Jim Lampl, was quoted saying, “We were hoping for a more favorable outcome, but it hasn’t happened… It’s not thinning out the masses of transients.” Unfortunately my dear Jim, favorable things don’t happen on their own.

All we’ve done is basically guaranteed that nobody goes to Five Points except those willing to sit indian-style. I’m sure the three bench haters will love it when the homeless really are the only people in the park. After a while they’ll probably become human installation pieces – our very own troupe of living statues strewn across the lawn for us peruse and ponder at our leisure. Truthfully, I don’t know whats more disturbing, the fact that we were voted “Meanest city to the homeless” in USA Today, or the fact that three people’s complaints can result in the removal of all seating in a public park.

Seriously, what happened to the rest of us who quite possibly have better ideas? The stream of complaints from citizens that actually enjoy having benches in their parks has been so relentless that the Herald-Tribune website has practically started a new blog on the topic. One woman even suggested they install meters on the benches rather than get rid of them all together. Hey, while we’re at it… But no joke, people honestly gathered at the park yesterday afternoon to protest the move with a “Give a chair to the homeless” rally.

I was always under the impression that our leaders were representing us – like how we feel about things and stuff. You’d think with the Noah’s flood of fury that’s erupted they would think: “This might not be representative of what our constitutuients want, if they’re marching in the streets and all…” But apparently they know what’s best for us.

Let’s think about this a mintue, OK. Instead of removing the benches, why don’t you just encourage more daytime activities in the park that will attract the types of people worthy of resting their haunches on some nice hard metal. Last I checked, the problem wasn’t homeless people refusing to give up their seats, but that most upstanding citizens with busy work schedules and plenty of socializing options have no reason to sit on a bench in Five Points Park. What are they supposed to look at – the homeless people?

Maybe if we got creative we could invite some musicians or dancers or live artists to post up in the grass and do their thing around lunch hour. We just might see an increase in demand for some more of those benches. The sculptures are lovely and all. But once you see an inanimate object, you’ve pretty much seen it. No need to pull up a chair and find out what happens next.

Hey, here’s another bright idea. Instead of making downtown less comfortable, why don’t you make the area around Salvation Army more comfortable by giving their residents something to do during the day rather than make the routine morning stroll three blocks south to panhandle. You might want to try a some sorta workforce training program or rehabilitation service. Nothing to strenuous, just something to keep them occupied while we take care of all our imporant “employed people” stuff – like working and shopping.

Remember the ultimate goal here people: attracting business to come downtown. Because if there’s no reason to drive downtown, and there’s no reason to sit downtown, than there’s no reason to go downtown.

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